The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed a felony complaint against UCLA political science Professor Michael Lofchie last month for an alleged conflict of interest while he was chair of the political science department.
The district attorney contends that Lofchie, as chair of the political science department in 2008, hired his wife as a university employee. This hiring decision financially benefited him, a violation of California government code, said David Demerjian, head deputy of the district attorney’s Public Integrity Division.
According to the code referenced in the felony complaint against Lofchie, which was reviewed by the Daily Bruin, state employees cannot be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity.
Lofchie’s attorneys are disputing the charge, and the university is providing for his defense, said UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea. Lofchie was read his formal charge on Feb. 8 and pleaded not guilty, said Gary Lincenberg, Lofchie’s attorney.
While he was chair of the political science department in 2008, Lofchie’s wife, Kelly Comras, was hired as a university employee for the political science summer travel study program. She was paid $2,867.50 in 2008, according to a university pay statement.
Demerjian said Lofchie made this hiring decision in his official capacity as department chair. Chairs are ultimately responsible for all faculty decisions made in their department, according to a university document about the role of department chairs.
Demerjian said hiring his wife as a university employee entitled Lofchie to 50 percent of her university salary in 2008 under California’s community property rule, a state marriage law. Under California government code, Demerjian said, the financial benefit Lofchie received from hiring Comras was a conflict of interest.
Lincenberg said, however, the complaint is false and should never have been filed.
He said the university approved the hiring of a few spouses of professors to help with summer study abroad programs in 2007 for the summer of 2008. The spouses had been previously helping with the programs for free and were already experienced with administering the programs.
The decision was made in full disclosure, and everything was legal, he said.
“We fully expect that Professor Lofchie’s position will be vindicated in court,” Lincenberg said.
While University of California policy does allow the spouse of a faculty member to be hired in the same department, it has a restriction against university staff members participating in the decision-making process to hire spouses, according to a UC Office of the President recruitment document.
Lincenberg said UCLA Summer Sessions and Special Programs hired Comras, and Lofchie was not any more involved in her hiring than any other professor recommending the appointment of a program assistant. He said Comras’ employment is in connection with the political science department, but was done through Summer Sessions.
According to the 2008 payroll statement, Comras’ department was listed as political science.
Comras has been an employee of the travel abroad program since her 2008 hiring. Lofchie’s position as department chair ended on June 30, 2008. He has continued as a professor at the university, and was appointed associate dean for the division of social sciences in 2010.
Lofchie has a hearing on March 13 to set a date for the preliminary hearing, Demerjian said.
If ultimately found guilty, Lofchie could face a maximum of three years in state prison, said Susan Schwartz, a deputy district attorney.
Lofchie could not be reached for comment.